One of this year’s most heard buzzwords: convergence. For years now, I’ve been hearing over and over that convergence is just around the corner. Well, at the end of 2005, the corner may just be in sight... finally.

Technologies and concepts like triple play, quadruple play, mobile TV, audio, DVB, MediaFLO, DRM and IMS are among the many terms being tossed around today, and wireless is mentioned in every paragraph.

If you look around, most of these elements have been on parallel developmental paths for some time now. The trend started with cameras being embedded into our wireless handhelds. Next, high-speed data services became available on our notebooks and then handsets. Now games are becoming available on our phones and we can share pictures, videos and instant messages. And, oh yeah, maybe now we can finally expect to have a voice conversation that won’t be dropped.

The fact is that consumer devices such as cameras, iPods and more are merging with wireless devices. Back-end services are being developed to tighten integration for devices and what they can do. Sprint has a vision that you will be able to view your TV menu on your phone screen, select what you want to record and send the command to your DVR (digital video recorder). The terms "third screen" and "fourth screen" are being tossed about along with triple play, quadruple play and other terms those within the wireless industry are expected to understand, and we are to believe all these concepts will quickly become reality.

Something called IMS (Internet Multimedia Subsystem), a term that is still being defined (seems like that is applicable across a lot of technologies, nowadays), is envisioned as the "platform of the future, " once we have an all-IP world. The term intimates that anything and everything can be quickly and easily tied together. Visions dancing in the heads of the bleeding edge-ers are that we will be able to transition, seamlessly, from outside to inside; in the air, on land and sea; from home to work to play; and the system will know where we are, what communications medium(s) are available to us and the type of content and services we want, and will make it all happen.

Our TV and audio content will follow us wherever we go and we will be able to check to see that our garage door is closed from thousands of miles away. We will be able to purchase anything we want with the click of a few phone buttons or simply pass our communicator over a restaurant name on a kiosk and have instant dinner reservations. We’ll be able to retrieve directions and real-time traffic reports from anywhere to anywhere and have a map with detailed driving directions on the integrated dashboard LCD. We will have ubiquitous access to everything in our lives. We will be able to control all of our devices and home appliances and access any type of information we want or need wherever we are... WOW!"

With little else to ponder, the consumer, entertainment and various other industries are betting heavily on these evolving technologies/platforms to find homes in our rapidly growing mobile-centric society. These traditional industries are discovering wireless at break-neck speeds and are jumping at the chance to work with the wireless industry to enable these visions. Movie, recording and content owners are falling all over themselves to work with the wireless industry (do I smell opportunity?) to integrate wireless into long-standing wired or fixed applications.

Over the past year, there has been a lot of movement in these directions. Deals are being made; partnerships are forming and traditional adversaries are finding new opportunity in cooperation. Everyone is trying to find the most advantageous fit when it comes to partners and services. Of course, not all of the deals nor all of the technologies and platforms will be successful. Not all of the joint ventures will succeed. But, finally, I think we are coming to that corner.

The speed with which we are driving toward this vision is astounding. Two years ago, no one knew what IMS was. Now, Fortune 500 companies are buying into it and selling it. Sure, we’ll have some sputtering and lateral shifts as the technologies are refined and reworked along this yellow brick road. And, in today’s razor-sharp business environment, companies are realizing that it isn’t just about technology that can do, it is about technology that can be developed, manufactured and sold at a profit, paving the road for services we want today as well as investing for the future.

And, peripheral to all of this, the wireless industry is wrestling with moving to 3G 3.5G, 4G, 5G and beyond. They are pushing hard to develop and implement wide-area networks, that bundle Wi-Fi, WiMAX (in various flavors) and other over-the-air technologies. We are slugging out ways to stitch them together with wired and cable services to envelop us in total individual communications solutions.

Well, I’ve heard this all before. But the plethora of options, services, content, technology and platforms are maturing and sooner or later momentum will take over and it will happen. As we work toward the vision, we are finally understanding that it is about the end-user. The bottom line is as clear as a full moon on a cloudless night. There are two rules that have to be followed without fail: the technology must solve a problem, aid in productivity or make our lives easier; and, the golden rule — it must be drop-dead easy to use and be reliable.

And, since this is the last column of 2005, I’d like to take a few lines to wish my contemporaries, readers, critics (yes, critics), advertisers and the myriad of friends I have made over the years the warmest of wishes for this holiday season. May peace be with you and fortune smile on us all.